Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I Affirmed I Would Tell the Truth

I affirmed I would tell the truth. I raised my right hand, my left clutching my black wool coat and I swore. It’s times like these, in a courtroom shivering from nerves, that I realized that doing what was right and telling the truth is, sometimes, one of the hardest things in life to do.

Truth. No lies. What you heard, saw, and experienced. Undiluted, naked. Uncluttered by fancy words or metaphors. No flowery speech. No well thought-out monologue.

In the days before, I mentally went over my testimony. Not just what I was being questioned on, I expounded and spoke long monologues to the judge in my head about what had put me in this position. Long childhood years of fights and abuse, of lies a child should not be coerced to tell a parent, of neglects behind closed doors.

The judge in my head was an old man with white hair and a stern scowl. I told him everything. I sat down on my bed and told him. And I cried. And after I was done with the litany of pain, I explained to him that the whole truth was that it was horrible and traumatic, but not to mistake me. There were good times. There was Disney World and a pool in the back yard and plays and lots of toys. There were good Christmases and always enough food. There were clean sheets and a fluffy dog friend and nice cars and calls for help in the middle of the night responded to. No, judge, no. It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes, it was wonderful.

Now, after 35 years of their marriage, I am grown. I see my parents as people and not gods, complete with flaws and foibles. I feel they’ve raised me well, to know right from wrong, good from evil, to stand up against wrong doing and fight against injustice. And isn’t that what all parents strive for? To raise children to be good and honorable people? Through all of it, I feel like they did their job. Now, it’s my turn to take what they taught me out into the world.

After 35 years of marriage, my parents are divorcing. I kissed my fiancée goodbye in our living room. I drove for two hours. I sat outside the courtroom on a wooden slat bench. The lawyer came out and called my name. I walked into the courtroom with deep blue carpet, walked forward and looked at the judge. He was younger than my father with glasses and brown hair and he looked more bored than stern. I raised my right hand, my left clutching my black wool coat and I affirmed that I would tell the truth. I took my place on the witness stand, my father to my right, my mother to my left. The lawyers asked questions and out of my mouth fell the truth. Naked, clumsy. I opened my mouth and shut the doors of abuse. I opened my mouth and shut the doors of hope of ever having my family back together. I opened my mouth and I told the truth.

My father sat, stern. My mother cried and turned her chair so that she didn’t have to face me. Truth. Simple answers to simple questions. I testified against my mother.

After it was over, I left the courtroom with a feeling of emptiness in my chest. My father followed me, saying, “I had them call a recess. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” We hugged on the wooden steps, the both of us fighting back tears. “I’m okay, Dad. I’m okay.” He turned and went back into the courtroom.

As I approached the door of the courthouse, the state trooper in his brown shirt stopped me. I looked at him, questioning. With his white hair and mustache, I could tell he was a good grampa. He looked down at me with soft blue eyes and I was unnerved to see such eyes, such caring wrapped in that uniform. “Bless you,” he said. “Bless you.” I nodded, tears building, thankful for his unexpected kindness.

Back in the lawyer’s office, I took out a pad and a pen and I wrote, “I affirmed I would tell the truth.”
There’s no turning back, now. Some may look at such an oath as a simple thing to be left at the door when one leaves the courtroom. Or, they may see the oath as an arbitrary thing meaning, “I can lie as long as no one can prove me wrong.” My mother apparently thought one or both of those things. After I left the courtroom, she falsely accused me of stealing $10,000 from her. She said it, I’m sure, to try to nullify my credibility. But I’m sure she will never really understand why I did it.

I knew she would be mad at me for testifying and I knew that, in all probability, I was flushing all hope of ever having a relationship with her. But I was the only one who saw, the only one who knew the truth. To not come forward, stand and speak was, to me, a crime against my own conscience. It was the right and true thing to do. And, hard as it was, I would make the same choice, again.

My father remarks to people about how good of a heart I have, about how strong I am for going through with it all. In my mind, I only did what I felt to be right. The shocking thing is that what I did is considered extraordinary and rare. The sad thing is that it shouldn’t be. It should not be extraordinary or rare for someone to stand up and speak out when there’s injustice being done. It should not be extraordinary or rare for someone to tell the truth, even at a great price to themselves. And it should not be extraordinary or rare for someone to do the right thing.

It’s funny. When I was done testifying, the judge told me that I could step down. The judge told me that I could go. There was no de-oathing process. I left the courtroom and went back into life still under oath. Any person of law will tell you that the oath ends when you leave the courtroom, but people of law are people of technicality, not spirit. Me? I am a person of spirit. I believe more in the spirit of what something is intended, rather than its’ technicalities. I swore to tell the truth. I affirmed that I would. I was never released from that oath. There’s no going back, now.

And, in that spirit, I now live my life. In that spirit, I now write – constantly under oath. No, there may not be a judge listening who can toss me in jail for perjuring myself. No, there may not even be a god listening, writing in the big book of my life, tallying up rights and wrongs. It does not matter. My conscience is listening. My heart is listening. My soul is trying to speak. In short, I know. In the deepest parts of me, I know.

That, I think, is the true measure of a person. Will they do the good and right thing, even if it costs them something dear? I affirmed I would tell the truth. I testified against my mother. I am still under oath. There is no going back, now. I was strong enough to do it once and it cost me. Big. From now on and for the rest of my life, no matter what it costs me, I am under oath.

And I affirm that I will tell the truth.